Cutting through the bullshit.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Oslo violence process

Apologists for Israel frequently accuse the Palestinians of resorting to violence against Israeli civilians as a matter of preference. 'If they would only learn from Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, they'd have achieved everything they could possibly want by now. But as long as they insist on terrorising innocent heavily armed Israeli civilians, the Jewish state must of course deploy maximum force to protect its helpless citizens. The only possible alternative is to allow the bloodthiursty Arabs carry out the second Holocaust they have always longed for.' You know the kind of thing.

There is a number of responses to these accusations. The most obvious is that Israel could, in accordance with its fabled 'purity of arms', practice a little less ultraviolence itself. Then perhaps the Palestinian retaliation would take different forms. Jonathan Cook points out that in reality, Palestinian acts of nonviolent resistance, large and small, public and private, are going on all the time. Every week at the Apartheid Wall in Bil'in and every time a child evades a checkpoint to get to school, what we are witnessing is nothing other than nonviolent resistance. But these actions somehow don't attract the international media. So they can engage in nonviolent resistance and nobody even notices, or they can engage in violence and earn the opprobrium of the civilised world. Heads Israel wins, tails the Palestinians lose.

In his article in The Socialist Register 2008: Global Flashpoints: Reactions to imperialism and neoliberalism, that appeared on Znet last week, Bashir Abu-Manneh, citing Cheryl Rubenberg, makes a point that frankly hadn't occurred to me.

The nature of the second Intifada was very different than the first, however. One of Oslo’s practical consequences was that the Israeli army had redeployed outside major population concentrations, making it extremely difficult for enclaved Palestinians to get at or confront the occupation forces, unlike in the first Intifada. Being fragmented by checkpoints and confined to their locales ‘rendered mass action virtually impossible’. Reflecting the effects of the siege regime through the 1990s, there has thus been a systematic weakening of the capacity of Palestinian society to act and organize as a national collective. As Rema Hammami and Salim Tamari argue, Oslo destroyed all resources for civil rebellion:

Save for massive candlelight marches and funeral processions within the cities, the population at large has been left with virtually no active role in the uprising. This is clearly not by choice, but as a consequence of the fact that the kinds of political structures that made grass-roots organizing the main thrust of the first intifada, at least in the early years, no longer exist. Popular and neighborhood committees as well as mass organizations (and most of the political movements that sustained them) began to collapse at the end of the first intifada under the cumulative weight of Israeli anti-insurgency methods. Their recovery was preempted by the Gulf War and, even more profoundly, by Oslo and the state formation process it set in motion. The demobilization of the population and their deepening alienation from political action (until the current uprising) has been one of the most salient outcomes of PA rule.


  1. In hindsight, the Oslo agreement can be seen to be even worse than its Palestinian critics said it was at the time. Subsequent events have demonstrated that Israel never intended to adhere to its obligations under it. Most importantly, Israel massively expanded and multiplied the illegal settlements, despite agreeing at Oslo to make no change in the status of any land in the Occupied Territories.

    The security arrangements set out above, however, indicate also that Israel was always intending to make itself less vulnerable to Palestinian resistance - and make non-violent resistance almost impossible. And the point of this, of course, was to enable it to continue stealing land with impunity.

    There is, however, a limit. Israel already has about 41% of all Jews, according to the Jewish Agency:

    Most remaining Jews live in countries with no significant persecution. It is therefore hard to see any large source of potential immigration into Israel in future. The demographic pressure of the Palestinians is thus likely, over time, to cause the military effort of Israel to become a greater economic & social burden. It is difficult to foresee precisely how this will play out, and over what timeframe, but it is unlikely to be beneficial to the Zionist project.

    P.S. The Wikipedia authors appear not to have noticed that the relationship between socialism and Zionism has become considerably less cozy in recent decades.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Abim.

    I’ve had a quick squiz at the text of the Oslo Accord and didn’t notice any mention of a commitment not to change the status of any land. So perhaps it’s even worse than its overseas critics say it is in the here and now?!

    At this point, the only thing I can see happening in Palestine if matters proceed along their current trajectory is the completion of the wall and the establishment of an ‘independent’ Palestinian Bantustan in the enclaves isolated by the settlement infrastructure in the West Bank, as intended. Possibly a second Bantustan in Gaza. In the longer term, I have little doubt that Israel intends to reoccupy and cleanse at least the West Bank, if the Palestinians don’t do the right thing and emigrate en masse of their own accord.

    Ghada Karmi was here last night. She was very good, but outlined just three scenarios that she regarded as possible. The same three Carter speaks of – the status quo, the two state solution along the lines of Geneva, or a one state solution. She countenanced the possibility that two states or a binational state could be steps in the direction of one state, although I’ve never understood how partition leads to unity, nor am I aware of any precedents apart from Vietnam, which was quite a different kettle of fish.

    She recognises that the status quo is inherently unstable and can’t persist. She adduces many of the same barriers to a truly viable Palestinian state that I do. But she appears to think that the one state solution will prevail because it’s a good idea and obviously the only viable just outcome.

    In reality, I am not so confident that Israelis will concur that it’s a good idea. Furthermore, I think she’s missed out the most likely outcomes. One of these is the one I outlined. But there remains the possibility of some kind of upheaval in the Arab world that will make the existence of a Zionist ethnocracy moot. A few months ago, I would have dismissed this as wishful thinking, but recent developments in Egypt may provide real grounds for hope.